Wednesday, February 6, 2019

“Our Father Who Art In Heaven”

By Tony Harriman

The societies of earth seem fashioned (and that really is the right word) to draw the mind to what’s going on and what’s (supposedly) important.  If you don’t know what to believe, some form of media will attempt to educate you and “tell” you what’s currently acceptable and what you should believe.  If you don’t happen to agree with the status quo, well, too bad for you; just suck it up and deal with it. In an attempt to keep the peace, most of us can usually find a way to keep our opinions to ourselves if we really try.
In the religious world it’s a little more complicated.  Generally there are centuries of tradition to wade through as you make your way to Paradise.  Though there appears to be an ever-flowing fountain offering new variations on old themes, the basic way to Heaven, we are told, is through the preacher and the forms and ceremonies.  I have nothing against religious innuendo or forms and ceremonies; we need order and timetables and schedules to keep us on track in our busy world. But when you’re developing a relationship with the Author of the universe, a structured church service is not enough.  Remembering birthdays and anniversaries will not tell you anything much about the person to whom those things pertain; they only tell about events in that person’s life.
Worship the Creator, Instead of the Creature

Take a brief look around our world and you will quickly recognize that the earth is filled with individuals who want to feel accepted, wanted and loved.  Quite often those of us with these needs gravitate toward some type of religion as we search for purpose and meaning in our lives. Those of us who choose Christianity quickly find ourselves worshiping the Creator, instead of the creature.  We learn of a God Who so loved us that He gave His only Son that we should not perish in our sins, but that we should live eternally. Quickly we find meaning for our lives as we seek ways to share that eternal truth with those with whom we share the planet.

As we engage in the Christian life, we learn more about the Bible.  We learn bigger words, bigger themes. We learn that God, in the Person of Jesus, created the vast cosmos that goes on without end.  We learn Biblical history with its forms and ceremonies. We learn of a Plan of Salvation as illustrated in the Hebrew Sanctuary constructed in the wilderness.  Some of us go on to spend countless hours and days and weeks and months and years nourishing our minds with Godly Names and spellings and Heavenly tools as offered to our intellects in that same wilderness Sanctuary.  Things begin to get even more complicated. Some of us, in a moment of intellectual overload may get overwhelmed with it all. And one day we find that we’ve lost our jobs and our families due to the strain of mind and of time. We might even toss it all away saying it’s really not worth the trouble.

What's In a Name?

Perhaps of all the themes in the Hebrew Bible, none are as interesting as the many Names and Titles belonging to the King of the Universe.  “Lord” and “God” are perhaps the most commonly used, but these are titles that could actually be used for the deity of just about all religions on the planet.  “Jehovah” is more specific, but isn’t used much by most Christians because of the use of the Name by Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Name “El-Shaddai” is used mostly in the Jewish religion as is “Jehovah-Elohim” and “Adonai-Jehovah.”  A name is important, as is evidenced by the many name-changing moments that occurred in Old and New Testaments alike.

Some religious Jewish people have special spellings for the Name of God, and some will not use the Name at all, either in writing or speaking.  It’s too holy, they say. Some Christian people embark on a similar course and have developed what’s called a Holy Name Bible, where all the Names of God and of Jesus are spelled out in their phonetic originals.
After listening to Jesus pray on one occasion, a disciple came to Him and asked that He teach them all to pray.  The response of Jesus speaks volumes. “When you pray,” He said, “Say, Our Father which art in Heaven….” He didn’t say that they should offer their petitions to: “The Almighty God,” or to “The Creator,” or to “Jehovah,” or to “I Am,” or to any other title we might use for the Deity.  He simply said we should speak to “Our Father.” And if you take the time to read again the Gospels in this light, you will find that this is exactly how Jesus Himself addressed His Father. Time and time again Jesus used the words, “My Father,” “My Father,” “My Father.” And likewise, “Your Father,” “Your Father,” “Your Father.”  An exception to the rule appears to have been at the Cross: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46). Though it’s unclear if Jesus is quoting the Book of Psalms (Psalms 22:1), or if the Book of Psalms is quoting Jesus.

Some verses you’ll be familiar with:

"Wist ye not that I must be about My Father's business?" –Luke 2:49

"Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." –Luke 23:34

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” –Matthew 5:16

“That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven ….” –Matthew 5:45

“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” –Matthew 5:48

“Your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?” –Matthew 6:26

“And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.” –Matthew 23:9

“But if ye do not forgive, neither will your Father which is in heaven forgive your trespasses.” –Mark 11:26

Jesus invited us to refer to our Father in just that manner: “Our Father.”  We are not encouraged to use any language that would cause a distance between us and our Father in Heaven.  He may be in Heaven, but He is still our Father and He would like to be known to us as our “Father.” He cares for us as a Father such as we have never known on the earth.

The Fondness of the Father

The term "Our Father" has a completely different Spirit about it, don't you think? "Our Father" has a much more personal meaning, like the Person we are addressing had, and has, a whole lot more to do with my life, knows who I am and where I am.  Though my life or yours may be far less than our Father desires, still He is interested in and concerned about our needs and our heartaches. The story of the Prodigal and his father (Luke 15:11) pictures the fondness our Heavenly Father has for us his children, wayward though we may be.  The story may not portray absolutely exactly every aspect of the watchfulness of our Father, but still we get the idea that our absence from His Presence is felt more keenly than we can imagine.

Make no mistake, though.  Our Father is The Creator.  He is the Sovereign of the universe.  He is the Great I Am. He is The Redeemer.  His is the only Name under Heaven whereby we must be saved.  He is the Alpha and Omega. He is the God Who sent His only begotten Son.  He is the only One Who lives beyond time and space and everything we have an instrument to measure.  His is the still, small Voice. He is these and so much more. But more than anything else ….

He is our Father, and we are His children.

And that's just my take on it ....

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

"A Work Second to None"

• By Tony Harriman

For more than thirty years my wife and I have been actively involved in front-line evangelism involving the distribution of truth-filled books. We've been to more countries than I can remember without stopping to think about them all. We've personally scattered a half million publications across the British Isles — satellite islands included. We've distributed books in many languages from Greenland to the Caribbean.

Once in a while over the years I've been met by a well-meaning brother or sister asserting, "You can't just scatter your books willy-nilly. There has to be careful preparation of the ground before you can expect any kind of growth from your seeds. If you want your seed to live, you're going to have to break up the ground FIRST."

From time to time I've been slowed in my personal evangelistic progress as I've thought about how true those words might be. I say "slowed," but not stopped. Recently I had an experience that confirmed for me that what I have been engaged in these many years is absolutely the thing to be doing. Let me tell you what happened, bear with me:

Several years ago my wife and I began spreading seed — literal seed — around our place in anticipation of obtaining some honey bees. We've enjoyed local honey for the longest time, and each year spend a fair amount of money on it. So we thought we'd invest in something that will give us a return — honey bees.  We scattered the seed — all kinds of seed — and we waited ... and waited ... and waited. We got nothing.

Last year the moment came when my family decided to finally embark on this journey of beekeeping. Just a couple of hives, we thought. That should keep us supplied with all the honey we need.

Well, before long, we're reading books about bees; watching videos about bees; talking to people about bees. We even joined the local Honey Bee Association. After all the watching and listening you finally realize that this handful of acres you live on would be better suited to honey bees if you would throw a few seeds in and get some flowering plants growing ... the bees can feed on the blossoms, we reasoned. So we bought some seed and went about the place broadcasting that seed from one side of the property to the other. Then we stood back waiting for the sprouts to spring up. We waited, and we waited. Again, nothing. Wrong time of year, we thought. So later in the year we bought more seed and scattered that. Nothing ....

In the back of my mind I'm hearing this voice repeating, "Can't just scatter your seed willy nilly. Nothing will come up." I was becoming more and more convinced that I've been doing a whole lot of things the wrong way.

About fall time last year, my wife and I, along with the bank (mostly the bank), invested in a small tractor with a bucket on the front and a tiller attachment for the back. We tilled a few places on the property that we hadn't ever done anything with. We scattered manure, then we broadcast seed and tilled it in. It wasn't but a week or so and small green seedlings littered the ground.

We were enthused. So I visited the local farm store and started to ask questions about the soil. We had soil tests done. We broadcast about four tons of lime on the ground. It came time to think about sowing some seed. I shared with the Farm Store people my experience with seed scattering and how I wanted to do it right this time. The owner of the place gave me a look and asked, "When did you start putting seed out?" "Two or more years ago," I said. "The seed's still down there," the owner said, "Just till it in. Something will come up."

So that's what I did. I tilled, scattered manure, pulled out the rocks, tilled some more, then stood back. Now, we're talking about the time we're coming to the end of the growing season. But, wouldn't you know it ... a lot of all that old seed sprouted.

Recently I turned my attention back to the ground on the hilltop. I had already enjoyed two crops of buckwheat up there from one late planting. Then last year, just before the cold came in, I scattered a little more manure, tilled it in and walked away. I really didn't pay much attention up there until recently. We were having a stump dug out and started thinking about a new crop for spring. Wouldn't you know it ... there on the top of the hill, from last year's plants gone back to seed, after this horrible winter we've endured, was a half field full of buckwheat seedlings.

Before we got our bees last year, we scattered a couple of bags of pollinator wildflower seed. In our ignorance we just scattered it there on the ground, expecting at least something to come up. Nothing. Six months later, in the fall, I tilled that area with the wildflower seed in anticipation of putting more seed in later. The ground sat through the months of withering frost. But wouldn't you know it, a little more light and a little warmth, and some of those flowers are coming to life.

Matthew 13:3-8 reads like this:

3 And he [Jesus] spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow;

4 And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up:

5 Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth:

6 And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.

7 And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them:

8 But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.

So Jesus speaks of a sower going forth to sow. The sower scatters seed everywhere. The seed falls on dry ground, rocky ground, hard ground, weedy ground. Yet still the scattering goes on. Much of the seed doesn't survive ... it's choked, burned, eaten and who knows what else. But some of that seed falls on good ground, where it produces a crop beyond wildest wishes.

But I have noticed a story beyond that recorded in the Parable. This is the untold story of a Cultivator coming through AFTER the sowing. This is a similar ministry to that of the vineyard dresser in Luke 13:6-9. It reads like this:

6 He [Jesus] spake also this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none.

7 Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?

8 And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it:

9 And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.

For three years there had been no produce coming from that one fig tree. The vineyard owner decides to have it cut down, yet he asks, in essence, "Why bother keeping it?" This is an unusual dialogue for the Master to enter into, don't you think? The master generally gives the orders; he doesn't usually ask for counsel. The query "why?" is a question that causes the brighter mind to light up.

The teacher, the preacher and the lawyer don't ask the "Why?" Question ... unless they are ready with their own answer. Or ... they really are open to honest, down-to-earth solutions. Smart people ask questions, not so they can hear their own remedies, but probably for at least two reasons: they have no real suggestions to offer ... or: they want to inspire other smart minds to provide a remedy.

The vineyard dresser, probably the planter of the tree, the trimmer of the tree, the pruner of the branches, the carrier of water to the tree in dry times, responds with the suggestion that more attention be given to this one fruitless tree. Maybe there is hope where it looks like there is none. The dresser is interested perhaps, not so much in the produce, as he is in the producer. If he takes care of the producer, the produce will take care of itself.

As Adventists we have a fondness for the power of the book work. Many of us are the fruit of the power contained in the books we continue to scatter. In our younger years we have pounded the pavements of the world and scattered books over all kinds of ground. In our later years we have given of our means to support other young people as they, too, go forth and pound the same pathways. We do it because we believe in the power of the One behind the information contained in these books. These books have the power to change things ... to change circumstances ... to change people.

Maybe you're familiar with the expression, "Second to none."

What does that expression mean? If you're second to none, what are you? You're number one. You're the first. There's no one and no thing before you. In the book, Colporteur Ministry by Ellen White, on page 7, under the heading "Second to None" appears this short passage:

"If there is one work more important than another, it is that of getting our publications before the public, thus leading them to search the Scriptures .... When church members realize the importance of the circulation of our literature, they will devote more time to this work. Papers, tracts and books will be placed in the homes of the people, to preach the gospel in their several lines ...."

And there is another promise just a few pages away on page 128:

"The results of the circulation of 'The Great Controversy' are not to be judged by what now appears. By reading it, some souls will be aroused, and will have courage to unite themselves at once with those who keep the commandments of God. But a much larger number who read it will not take their position until they see the very events taking place that are foretold in it. The fulfillment of some of the predictions will inspire faith that others also will come to pass, and when the earth is lightened with the glory of the Lord, in the closing work, many souls will take their position on the commandments of God as the result of this agency."

The Great Controversy
 (GC) was introduced to the world in various forms more than 100 years ago. Many canvassers, God rest their souls, have gone into the grave awaiting the fulfillment of the grand themes presented in the GC. As have the people to whom the book has been delivered. Can we agree that most of the predictions made in the GC are still awaiting fulfillment? Has the Papacy been reinstated in its former glory? Has the USA thrown away the Constitution? Has Satan personated Jesus? Some of these things have looked awful close from time to time, but we're still waiting.

With so many people coming into the world daily, can we honestly say, "We've done enough"? Of course not. We are still here because clearly ALL which has been predicted has not come to pass, and ALL the Heavenly work has not yet been completed.

Obviously, book distribution is not the only work the Christian will find to be successful, but, for whatever reason, it appears to be an important one. God is interested in getting the truth contained in the Scriptures into the minds of the people — not just my interpretation of the truth. He wants the soul to have a personal relationship with the Scriptures, and with the Creator to be found within the pages of Scripture.

As a group involved in the distribution of truth-filled literature, we've scattered lots of seed — more than 50 million publications and counting. Some of the seed has sprung to life immediately; some took a while. But, if the author of the books is correct, much of that seed is sitting awaiting a Cultivator. We've seen wonderful results, but there is yet a tremendous harvest just ahead.

Through the years we have noticed these few things:

• Anyone with natural endowments can give a book away, or ...

• He or she can support another person in his or her mission to give a book away, or ...

• He or she can simply offer a prayer to the throne of grace for the spiritual support of the work of giving books away.

This short article is coming to a close. And, like it or not, our own personal clock is coming to its fulfillment also. Time is running out. It's time to bear some fruit and to give the world something wholesome. The world is tired of fig leaves.

May God grant us wisdom and strength to endure the digging around us, and may He grant us peace and fortitude as we put forth our own effort to be all that we can be in the army of Heaven. We shall see Him by and by. Amen.

And that's just my take on it ....

Steps to Christ - Audiobook

Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing - Audiobook

Christ's Object Lessons - Audiobook

Up a Tree with Christina Bee - Audiobook

Leave the Thorns Alone - Music CD